Canada to suspend random COVID testing to reduce airport wait times

Travellers crowd the departures lounge at Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga

By Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada is suspending random COVID-19 testing at all its airports for the rest of June to ease the long wait times that travelers have encountered in recent weeks, a government statement said on Friday.

The random testing will be discontinued from Saturday and will resume "off-site" on July 1, the statement said.

Random testing was blamed by some industry officials for lengthening already long wait times at airports. Toronto's Pearson airport has had planes stuck at gates and hours-long security lines because of staffing shortages.

The government "recognizes the impact that significant wait times at some Canadian airports are having on travelers," the statement said, adding that it would continue to "implement solutions to reduce delays as we approach the summer peak season."

Reuters previously reported the testing suspension, citing a government source.

The country's largest carrier Air Canada canceled almost 10% of flights from Pearson during the first week of June, according to data from Cirium, an aviation analytics company.

Suzanne Acton-Gervais, interim president of the National Airlines Council of Canada (NACC) which represents Air Canada and privately held WestJet Airlines, said the move "will improve conditions at Canada's airports and reduce complexity for travelers."

Officials at Pearson had no immediate comment.

Airlines around the globe that faced a travel slump during the pandemic have been counting on a strong summer. The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) has hired 865 screening officers since April to help manage an increase in travelers.

Canada's opposition Conservative Party has said Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government has been slow to act to remedy airport congestion.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal;Editing by Chris Reese and Grant McCool)